Climate change commitments must become reality in 2009


OPINION:Determination, ambition and togetherness - three ingredients for tackling a defining issue, writes Ed Miliband 

THE START of 2009 is a crossroads moment on climate change: does the world look at the financial events unfolding and say it's too hard to act and act quickly? Or do we affirm our aim of a broad and inclusive agreement and keep on the road to a global deal in Copenhagen in December 2009?

To stay on the path to a deal, 2009 must be a year of negotiation not discussion and we all need to raise our game. Morally, we know the scale of the threat of a changing climate. Economically, we know the costs of not acting outweigh the costs of acting and the costs grow the longer we wait.

And so to up the pace, we need to do three things.

First, each country must show clear intent, guided by the science. Many developing countries are setting out national plans to show how they want to tackle climate change. We in the UK have adopted a target to cut emissions by 80 per cent by 2050; we will adopt challenging targets for 2020 and we have enshrined national carbon budgets in law. All of this is driven by our understanding of what the science tells us about the impact of dangerous climate change.

Secondly, we need to be ambitious about what we can achieve. Of course circumstances are hard, we are now in times of economic difficulty and the pressure of this can be felt across the globe. But we now have a framework to guide our effort: the aim of at least a 50 per cent cut in emissions by 2050 compared to 1990. Developed countries will have to do more - which is why the UK has set an 80 per cent cut in law, and why we should all welcome the fact that president-elect Obama has done the same. But if we have targets for 2050, we also need interim targets and that is something we will have to resolve together in the coming year.

And this takes me to my third point: we need to remember that we are all in this together. Climate change is an issue which transcends all others in the way it shows we are interdependent: in how it affects us and whether we can tackle it.

And if we are all in this together, we know the basis of an agreement is likely to be: major reductions from developed countries, substantial deviation from business as usual by developing countries and significantly increased and reliable flows of finance for adaptation and mitigation for developing countries. None of this will be easy.

At the UN climate conference in Poznan, a number of developing and developed countries came together around principles we should apply to deforestation in an agreed statement. And in support of the huge efforts made at the conference to get the adaptation fund up and running, we also committed more money on urgent adaptation needs through the UN funds and contributed another £100 million to forestry, reflecting the importance of capacity-building and the obligations we acknowledge to the rainforest nations. We know this is only a contribution to what is required, but it is a sign of intent. It reflects the spirit of being in it together.

In Poznan, we reaffirmed our determination to up the pace on the road to Copenhagen. And we should recognise that since it must be done, it can be done and therefore it can be done by us together. We have come a long way forward in the recognition of the problem of climate change and the need to tackle it. We must in the year ahead make our global commitment to act a reality.

Ed Miliband is UK secretary of state for energy and climate change